University of Paderborn : Mobile phone off, brain on

June 29, 2023

Paderborn scientists publish study on the effect of smartphones on attention in Nature journal

Entertainment, information, social contacts – and all this in a pocket-sized device: the smartphone has long been a central – indeed elementary – part of our everyday lives. We write emails, place orders, listen to music. But the mobile phone distracts us. Even when it is switched off on the table. “The development towards a constant presence of the smartphone has negative consequences for attention,” says Prof. Dr. Sven Lindberg, Head of Clinical Developmental Psychology at the University of Paderborn. The scientist conducted a study on the influence of the smartphone on cognitive abilities. The results have now been published in the renowned Nature journal “Scientific Reports”.

Slow and unfocused

“The mere presence of the smartphone has an unfavourable effect on productivity, and it doesn’t even have to involve interaction with the device. The fact that the phone is in sight – even when it is switched off – affects cognitive performance. Users work slower and less concentrated,” explains Lindberg. According to the scientist, it takes a higher authority to suppress the urge to instantly engage with the smartphone. “The ability to organise, analyse and compare actions and to control impulses is called executive function. However, the cognitive resources required for this, i.e. working memory, are vulnerable and limited,” continues Lindberg, who conducted the study together with his doctoral student Jeanette Skowronek.

Mobile phone addiction has no influence

“There have only been a few studies on the influence of the switched-off smartphone, which is why our work can make an important contribution to existing research,” the scientist is certain. Lindberg’s team conducted concentration and attention tests with 42 participants aged 20 to 34 in the presence and absence of a smartphone. In addition to assessing attention performance, they also examined the participants’ dependence on mobile phones. The result was surprising: the individual degree of mobile phone addiction measured had no effect on the effect.

Information processing is disturbed

Lindberg explains: “Compared to the other group, the subjects without smartphones showed significantly higher attention performance. Overall, most studies show the influence of a switched-on or available smartphone in the context of complex attention tasks. For example, fast switching between different tasks. These results suggest that, in particular, the speed of cognitive performance and the processing of information are impaired.”

According to Lindberg, it therefore makes sense to place the mobile phone in another room during tasks that require a high level of concentration in order to reduce negative effects on work and attention performance. However, it is not enough to simply cover the screen of the smartphone or turn it off.

The study can be viewed at:

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